Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kit's Potato Puff Balls

Kicking off the holiday with a somewhat untraditional side dish!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out finding really Christmasy recipes from the Depression? Is actually pretty difficult. Or at least reasonably difficult when you've been told you're already making too many cookies this month, find something else to make!

Which, to be fair, is a good argument. I keep saying that I want to turn this blog into something other than a chronicle of my various baking adventures, except then I go right back to making cookies and cakes instead of figuring out how to prepare a meal for myself and others. Fortunately, after poking around a lot of different websites and through a couple cookbooks, I discovered a relatively easy appetizer that - while not necessarily very holiday seeming on its own - was apparently a popular visitor to tables across the country during the Depression. It's not surprising! Potatoes are cheap, you can grow them yourself, and they can be stretched or used to stretch other ingredients you've got in your pantry.

And hey, maybe Christmas needs more simple, easy to make appetizers. Might cut down on the amount of stress the holiday creates for some people!

Potatoes are pretty great, and I can't say I'd ever eaten them like this before. The recipe I used came from Yankee Magazine, and can be found here! But the actual history of this creation can actually be found on a different part of Yankee Magazine's website, along with a reprint of the original recipe first published in Yankee Magazine back in 1937. The cookbook I bought at the National Archives features a lot of potato recipes from the 1930's too, and now I'm curious to go drag that out and see if there's something similar to this in there, too!

Obviously, you start with potatoes. I kind of felt like the ones I wound up using were authentic to the potatoes I would have had in the 1930's: they were a little shrimpy, and some of them required a lot of face and body work before they were ready to be eaten. They did cook pretty quickly though, and were ready to be mashed up about twenty minutes after I put them on the stove.

To make it more authentic (and to help make sure you're really getting smooth potatoes), the recipe tells you to use a food mill, which I have discovered is an absurdly frustrating, lengthy progress that hurts my hands and wrists. Sounds like fun, right? My mom says my great grandmother used to use one all the time, and I have to say, if she didn't have my respect before (she did), she does now!

A half cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese gets mixed in with this, along with a cup of hot milk, two and a half tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper to taste. The hot milk and warm potatoes helped melt the cheese and butter, but the butter actually took a lot longer to melt than I would have liked.

As a side note, my only complaint with the recipe was that there were a few ingredients that weren't quite accounted for in the actual instructions. Specifically, the butter and vegetable oil - I figured some of the butter needed to go in the potatoes proper, but the other measurement for it and the oil totally baffled me. Maybe they were supposed to get melted in with the breadcrumbs, or used to grease your pan?

Anyway, your mashed potatoes then get rolled into balls, dunked in an egg wash and rolled around in breadcrumbs. This was a lot harder than I thought it would be, mostly because I felt like I'd maybe overmixed my potatoes. They weren't holding their shape at all, and originally, my tray looked a lot lumpier and weirder.

Fortunately, my mom came over and helped reshape them a little, assuring me that I was just panicking a little because I'd never done this before. Thanks for your help, Mom!

These guys get baked in the oven for ten minutes at 400 degrees, flipped, and baked for another ten minutes.

Mine didn't come out looking especially crunchy like a tater tot, but they weren't burned and didn't explode, so I was happy to take what I could get!

The recipe recommended serving them with ketchup, which I was happy to drizzle on mine.

Now, I'm going to be honest - I wasn't a huge fan of these. The flavor was pretty bland, and I'm not sure if it was just because I didn't put in enough salt and pepper, or if the butter didn't combine correctly or what, but they kind of just came out tasting like breaded bland mashed potatoes. The ketchup helped spice them up, but the texture was a little too soft for me, and the coating definitely wasn't crispy like a tater tot. You couldn't really taste the cheese at all, even though it was sharp cheddar, and I wonder if it was in the recipe more as a binding agent than something you're really supposed to notice and appreciate while you're eating. Kind of a bummer for me, because I happen to be a fan of sharp cheddar, and definitely wouldn't have minded cheesy potato puffs!

That being said, my grandfather and uncle really liked them, and even offered to take the leftovers home with them. I'm never sure if people offer things like that out of pity, or if they genuinely liked whatever it was that I made, but they went back for seconds and even refused to have ketchup with them, so I guess this might be a "your mileage may vary" deal. I will say that if my family was struggling to make ends meet or just wanted to allot more of the food budget to a different part of our holiday celebration, I'd be more than happy to eat these! Especially with the ketchup, they were decidedly "not bad", if not "amazing".

Yankee Magazine makes a point of saying that during the Depression, people's focus during the holiday season was more on spending and enjoying time with family, and less on having the world's most impressive feast out on the table. I hope that's still true for people, whether that mean your family or a found family no matter what holiday you celebrate, and I'd like to wish everyone luck as they start heading into the coming weeks of wondering what food you're going to have to cook for whatever festivities you're attending!

(Also, a special shout out to my cousin for letting me borrow some of the props I used for this post! They were very much appreciated and will be taken very good care of during their stay here.)

Kit's eyes are apparently a little big for her stomach...

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